Creative Landscape Design for a Renovated Eichler in California

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By Joanne Furio / Published by Dwell
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Landscape designer Bernard Trainor masterminds a seamless garden to surround a Silicon Valley Eichler.

With their glass walls, exposed beams, and promise of indoor-outdoor living, the California houses that Joseph Eichler built in the 1950s and ’60s have endured the test of time—give or take some modernization. Their landscapes, though, not so much.

Usha and Mike Kreaden had a virtually blank slate when it came to the garden outside the 1958 Joseph Eichler house that they bought in Silicon Valley two decades ago.

"Because these houses were economical, they didn’t come landscaped," says Paul Adamson, an Eichler historian. "There was little more than concrete paving and planting areas. Lawns and plants were installed by the homeowners." That’s what Usha and Mike Kreaden discovered when they moved from Montreal to Sunnyvale, California, in 1991 and, a few years later, bought a 1958 Eichler blessed with an expansive front yard. "We thought, this is the way we want to live in California," Usha explains. "The house was so open and inviting."

Landscape designer Bernard Trainor’s creative use of poured-in-place concrete pavers—such as off the living room, where they break up a low-maintenance lawn of June grass—give the irregularly shaped lot a sense of order. Foxtail ferns and blue chalk sticks, a succulent, lend dashes of color to the entry courtyard, while thyme makes for a fragrant accent between the pavers.

For the Kreadens, though, the indoor-outdoor part of the equation would have to wait. With two young daughters, Annapurna and Siddartha, and visiting parents, they needed to update and expand the house first. Guy Ayers, a Los Altos Hills architect, added an additional 634 square feet to the 2,242-square-foot house. The idea, Ayers says, was "to respect the fabric of the salvaged portions of the house but also add more opportunities for outdoor ‘rooms.’" Once the renovation was complete, the couple turned their attention to the property, which measured almost a third of an acre.

In the back, ferns and other shade-friendly plants thrive beneath the home’s deep overhangs.

Enter Bernard Trainor, a Monterey-based landscape designer lauded for his modernist approach. His work is recognized for a close attention to context, architectural style, and history. He, too, wanted to pay homage to the architecture and what came before, but in the case of the garden, that was very little. Like any good student of landscape design, he looked to related sources, like the houses that Richard Neutra built across Southern California. Trainor admires Neutra for his spatial design and use of hardscape, and channeled those moves into the Kreadens’ landscape. "Eichlers aren’t very big—that’s why so much emphasis was on the outside," Trainor says. "The house had to look like it extended out, so there was a strong focus on interesting paving."

An ipe fence and a neon-yellow resin screen fashioned from recycled acrylic panels draw visitors toward the entrance to the Kreadens’ renovated Eichler house.

In addition to creating the illusion of more space, paving helps steer the eye through the Kreadens’ irregularly shaped lot. Trainor divided the yard into four "garden rooms": an entry courtyard with a fire pit for entertaining, a traditional backyard with a lawn and a dining area, a meditative space just off the master bedroom, and a side garden near the guesthouse. Poured-in-place concrete interspersed with gravel and stone—the backbone of his plan—connects the zones. Trainor staggered the concrete pieces in a way that "creates more of a flow and provides opportunities to insert plantings," he says. "Having unusual paving shapes creates rhythm in the garden."

A gravel path leads to a guesthouse, where Trainor supplemented an existing garden of yuccas and palm trees with succulent aeoniums and flowering euphorbias.

The new gate to the property—made from recycled acrylic Chroma panels by 3form, in a splashy neon yellow—sets the tone for the landscape’s centerpiece. Trainor converted the front yard into an outdoor living room, where a deep-wicker sofa and chairs, both by Mamagreen, surround a custom concrete gas fire pit. Beds of drought-tolerant red kangaroo paws enclose the seating area without eliminating views.

“Eichlers aren’t very big—that’s why so much emphasis was on the outside. The house had to look like it extended out.” —Bernard Trainor, landscape designer

Stepping stones lead to the side yard, which includes a Modern-Shed guesthouse, and the backyard, where the family often dines alfresco. In the opposite corner, a contractor, Mike Hertzer, transformed a boulder into a fountain, whose soothing sound drifts into the master bedroom suite nearby.

A contractor drilled holes in a boulder, creating a fountain that he placed in the backyard outside the master bedroom, where the sound of water lulls the Kreadens to sleep.

The arrangement of plants was "as much about form as about color," Trainor says. He supplemented what was already there with sculptural New Zealand flax, colorful succulents like Aeonium ‘Mint Saucer’ and blue chalk sticks, and grasses like June grass and mondo grass at the lowest level. "The varieties of foliage size and shapes play against the simple building forms," Trainor says. Unlike with traditional homes, where plantings tend to hide the foundation, "in a modern house you want it to appear as if the floor runs out into the landscape," he says.

Their daughters, Annapurna, left, and Siddartha, play with their dog, Anouck, beneath the kangaroo paws in the entry garden courtyard.

What was once the most neglected part of the property has become the place where the couple and their daughters, now 18 and 15, spend the most time. Steps from the great room, the front yard "has truly become an extension of the house," Usha says—an updated notion of indoor-outdoor living that goes a step beyond Eichler’s vision. 

Behind the resin screen is the property’s centerpiece: an entry garden that Trainor recast as an outdoor living room. Sparta stacking chairs, a deep-wicker Baia sofa, and matching Baia armchairs, all by Mamagreen, are arranged around a custom concrete fire pit. Orange kangaroo paws lean in from the sides, creating a sense of privacy without sacrificing views. It’s a welcoming space that serves as a casual gathering spot when the weather cooperates.